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Past futures: innovation and the railways of nineteenth-century London and Paris

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter

Publication date05/2016
Host publicationHandbook of research on emerging innovations in rail transportation engineering
EditorsB. Umesh Rai
PublisherIGI Global
ISBN (electronic)9781522500858
ISBN (print)9781522500841
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Innovation was central to developments in urban railway transport in nineteenth-century London and Paris. Innovation was often political, the result of an encounter between and across a range of actors, including railway entrepreneurs and their companies, railway engineers, civil engineers, architects, intellectuals, a range of authorities –local, municipal, metropolitan, regional and national –, and the rich mix of people affected by the opening of a new railway line: shopkeepers whose business would be affected by the scale of the works; landlords who were forced to deal with the noise, the pollution, and the viaducts across their properties; tenants displaced without recourse to much else beyond their own means, the largest majority consisting of the poor.
My aim in this contribution is twofold. I want to open up the very notion of innovation to issues that cover at least three different and inter-related dimensions: the politics, the culture and the social concerns behind the opening of new railway lines in London and Paris. Secondly, I wish to show how the two cities coped, but also dealt with one of the most transformative forces of nineteenth-century Britain and France. An important part of that story relates to the different futures that were envisioned in the two cities, in response to specific concerns and determined by a particular set of conditions. This approach highlights the process of how innovations took place rather than the end result. My concern is therefore with the debates, ideas and challenges of getting to the object or point we call innovation, not the ready-packed model that we know circulates, widely and far.